Many things have changed since the founding of pianist/composer Abdullah Ibrahim's Ekaya. Starting in 1983, this mid-sized jazz ensemble, whose name means "home", presented Ibrahim's most powerful musical statements during an important time of protest against apartheid in his native South Africa. His new CD -- "Sotho Blue" -- shows a new side of the band as compositions of the past that had been intended as protest have taken on new meaning. Apartheid has been abolished and celebration, hope and meditative calm dominate where there was once angst. The pieces revisited seem minimalistic in contrast to stormier earlier incarnations. This doesn't detract from the music but only deepens its character.
The award-winning singer Rene Marie presents "Voice of My Beautiful Country" -- an ambitious celebration of Americana which glorifies the cultural diversity of the United States through her beautifully and emotionally charged interpretations of nationally loved anthems, from Motown and Tin Pan Alley classics to "America the Beautiful." With the new CD, Rene says, "I set out to embrace the many varied voices of this country. A person might think, 'What do a Jimmy Van Heusen song, a Temptations song, a Jefferson Airplane song and 'John Henry' all have in common?' To me, each song reflects a different facet of American life."